Japan

Fukuoka, Japan (2005 maybe?)

Across the big pond again to Japan. This time I took my son Seth, a junior high student who happens to study Japanese as one of his languages (other two are Arabic and Russian). Speaks, reads and writes Japanese at level two of four in the Standardized tests. I managed a Business Class ticket and Seth dessicated in the flying sardine can 13 hours Chicago – Tokyo. Sorry about that. Dues, you know.

I suspect that the airlines intentionally squeeze them into economy to promote their ridiculously expensive business class. It’s a Hell-hole back there. Like a torture chamber. Only thing missing is the weird organ music and rattling chains. But even so, a 13 hour trip is brutal in any kind of seat. After 6 or so hours there is no way to get comfortable in a seat that leans back a bit more. You’re still not supine so I can’t sleep anyway. No matter how you arrange arms and legs, pressure points appear quickly and you’re moving all the time. It’s just brutal.

But at any rate, we hit Narita late in the afternoon, cleared customs and were treated to a delightful traditional Japanese supper by Mr. Taniguchi of Respironics. We got a chance to wander around the Ginza for a while, even passed the Apple Store prominently placed on a main Ginza street. They must all be standardized. Looks just like the one in New York. A good night’s sleep and off to Kyoto the next AM on the Bullet Train.

Very safe, sleek, quiet and almost uncomfortably fast. Close to 200 mph (max speed 320 KPH). I’m told there’s never been an accident. We were told to sit on the right side for a great view of Mt. Fuji. It went by so fast it was gone before I could dig out a camera. Kyoto in record time to pick up my friend and CCM-L stalwart Dr. Satoru Hashimoto. Got a chance to tour his very modern and efficient ICU (see photos). Then off to Fukuoka and the meeting. Bullet train again…..zoom.

Hotel was beautiful and first class. Opening ceremonies were elegant. Foreign speakers were introduced formally. Met Dr Maekawa, the Chairman of the Meeting, a most gracious host. At this point, I had a full day to kill doing whatever I wanted. Several others were taking an all day formal tour but I usually prefer to sneak around myself. Seth took off like the wind and was seen shortly thereafter skateboarding with some other Japanese teens. His knowledge of the language enabled him to go wherever he wanted. He walked around town for three days from morning to night soaking up culture.

I took a side trip to Hiroshima. About an hour by Bullet Train from Fukuoka. I figured I better get over there since it’s pretty far out of the way for most visitors to Japan with limited time. The photos of what Hiroshima looked like (see my photo essay) are absolutely frightening. The bomb dropped on August 6, 1945 exploded about 600 meters above the (now) memorial building still preserved as a memorial. The rest of the museum archived many artifacts including a chilling melted wristwatch stopped at exactly 8:15 AM. I suspect the downward force vector spared the building from total destruction and the sideways vectors essentially flattened the rest of the city around it. An entire city flattened in a blink of an eye. 60 years later, Hiroshima is a teeming, thriving city. A testament to the ability of a people to survive and rebuild. That’s all I have to say about this rather emotional experience. The photos tell the story better than I can

Dinner for the foreign guests and some of the local physicians was very interesting. VERY traditional Japanese. Shoes off, squatting on the floor (ouch). VERY Japanese food…….variations on the theme of raw seafood. Now I have to say at this point that I just don’t do raw seafood. Satoru made it a little easier by asking in advance that some of my meal be broiled. That was a nice touch and, of course, it was fabulous. I did have some (raw) Pufferfish (Fugu) a fish with the potential toward toxicity that must be prepared by specially licensed chefs. It just tasted like raw fish to me. The treat of the day was STILL ALIVE squid sectioned in the middle for easy spearing of the corpus strips with chopsticks. It was right out of Hannibal. Literally eating live squid. Impossible you say? I have the videos to prove it (see end of my review). May be too intense for younger viewers.

But the best part of the evening was Seth. Of course all the foreigh guests had to stand up and introduce themselves (in English). When it came around to Seth, he stood up and did his intro in seemingly flawless, fluent Japanese. Every jaw in the place bounced on the floor. The spectacle induced instant estrogen storm in two of the young attractive nurses, who leapt and stuck to him like barnacles for the rest of the evening. Young American boys with long blond hair speaking fluent Japanese don’t wash up on the shore every day I suspect.

Next day was my talk. I had heard early that many attending the congress didn’t do well with written American English and I was admonished to speak slowly. I figured much of my slide presentation might go poorly understood. So I expended a fair amount of energy to have translated (by the World’s Smartest Woman- Elyse Hendrick) into Japanese. Her version was culturally corrected by Satoru (using a lot of his valuable personal time- I appreciated greatly). When it came time, the audience seemed visibly pleased that they could effectively share in the slide presentation. Professor Maekawa was spotted sitting next to my kid Seth in the back row, conversing in Japanese.

Back in the flying sardine can and home to sweat out the Jet Lag, which always seems worse going from West to East.

My impressions:

I found the Japanese to be a delightful people. Polite to the point of self effacement. I saw people almost get into arguments trying to shoo the other one through an exit door first. Curt bows are de rigeur for every occasion even for perfect strangers. I was very very appreciative of the hospitality they provided my son who I didn’t expect they would even see. Their critical care units are impressive. They (naturally) take impeccable care of their patients and their symposium was first class.

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